A Tribute to Joni Mitchell was a star-studded album that witnessed multiple artists from a variety of musical genres come together to record an album as a tribute to one of the most influential female artists in the music industry, the woman who changed the course of Western music forever – the one and only, Joni Mitchell.
Mitchell’s cerebral imagery of the world around her, combined with the representation of emotional and introspective inputs, struck a chord, not only with her fans but music enthusiasts regardless of their temporal or spatial boundaries. What is essential to notice is how relevant Mitchell remains, not only in her own time but also to this day, where even today’s young generation hold Mitchell in the highest regards.
A tribute to Joni Mitchell brings forward some of Mitchell’s best songs, re-interpreted and re-designed by some of the most well-known artists, including Bjork, Sufjan Stevens, Prince, Annie Lennox, James Taylor and so on. Among them was another musician quite different in terms of Mitchell’s musical sound yet quite similar in terms of the uniqueness of their individual lyrical prowess. This man was none other than Elvis Costello.
Costello, by his own admittance, was a huge Joni Mitchell fan. What started as his father lending him a record (which, by the way, Costello never returned) turned into Mitchell’s music impacting and influencing his own musical style and, in turn, shaping his life. Costello, later in his career, had the opportunity of meeting Mitchell and interviewing her for Vanity Fair. From that one record his father gave to him, Costello’s interest in Mitchell’s music kept him going back for her newer releases all through his life.
In an interview, Costello, much impressed but Mitchell’s words and lyrics, said, “She’s a fairly unprecedented songwriter”. He went on to say how mesmerised he was with her guitar playing but could never quite comprehend the chords she played even when he knew how to play the guitar himself. To the 17/18-year-old Costello, “Blue was quite shocking”. Later on, Costello summed up, in very few words, what it was about Mitchell’s albums that made her so vital to countless generations, he said, and we agree, “She’s hardly made a record that doesn’t have something to interest you”.
In A Tribute to Joni Mitchell, Costello covered ‘Edith and the Kingpin’ from her seventh studio album, The Hissing of Summer Lawns. This song, told from the perspective of an omnipresent third-person narrator, followed the story of an established gangster’s possible gun moll returning to his hometown and what happened thereafter. The music behind the lyrics marked Mitchell’s return to her jazz background; with the sweeping basslines and the mellow guitar riffs, Mitchell’s original transported us to a whole new level of transcendental music.
Costello’s cover on the other hand, while still lingering in the realm of jazz, was more sombre. This version was accompanied by the intense sounds of the wind instruments, some apparently mismatched chords, Costello’s controlled voice ranging from the deepest lows to the staggering highs along with the occasional vibratos, rendered Mitchell’s original version of ‘Edith and the Kingpin’ beautifully. More importantly, the musical collaboration that came out of this was truly extraordinary. ‘Edith and the Kingpin’ remained in the hearts of the audience as Costello’s song as much as it did as Mitchell’s.
Treat yourself to Elvis Costello’s beautiful rendition of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Edith and the Kingpin’ below.